PGA Preview: A Return To Kiawah

The Rowdy Ryder Cup at Kiawah

The PGA returns to the Ocean Course, the scene of the 1991 matches that became known (for better or worse) as The War by the Shore. Players, captains, caddies and others recall a week they'll never forget

Mark O'Meara, Payne Stewart, Dave Stockton, Corey Pavin.

SURFIN' U.S.A.: Mark O'Meara and Payne Stewart flank Dave Stockton as he upends Corey Pavin.

August 2012

When the PGA Championship is played at Kiawah Island, S.C., in August, it will be hard-pressed to match what transpired there over three blustery days more than two decades ago. The same goes for the Ryder Cup in September at Medinah outside Chicago. For drama, international intrigue, incredible golf and pressure at its most intense, neither event is likely to surpass the 1991 Ryder Cup played over Kiawah's mean and unrelenting Ocean Course. It was dubbed The War by the Shore, and the hyped-up nickname notwithstanding, it was as cruel and remorseless as sport can get.

The '91 Ryder Cup was played only months after the Gulf War had concluded. Patriotism had been running high and unchecked on the American side, and the Europeans were fueled by a relatively new continental pride. Kiawah came after European victories in 1985 and 1987 and a draw in 1989, which meant six years of Europe holding the cup after decades of American domination. Both teams were thick with brilliant, strong-ego players, eight of whom have already made the World Golf Hall of Fame. Further separating the teams was the fact that golf wasn't quite the global tour it is today, with few Europeans playing the PGA Tour full time. Finally there was the setting, a barren, exposed and unforgiving Pete Dye course that stretched players' physical and emotional constitutions to the limit.

Portents of trouble came early in the week with a three-car pileup involving American players on their way to a Wednesday gala. On the first day of play on Friday, controversy erupted immediately when several Americans showed up wearing camouflage caps. The tenor grew worse, and over the three days of competition there were tense accusations of gamesmanship and rules-bending. Bizarre conspiracy theories were set forth, including claims of an exaggerated injury, manipulated pairings and intercepted walkie-talkie conversations. The galleries were predictably partisan.

At the forefront, though, was some of the most compelling golf ever seen in the Ryder Cup. The teams began the final day tied, 8-8, and several hours later it came down to two good men--Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer--playing the final hole, head-to-head, for the Ryder Cup.

What happened that day, and indeed the entire week, is best left to the men who experienced it. Through late winter and spring this year, Golf Digest sought recollections from the players who competed that year as well as the two captains, Dave Stockton and Bernard Gallacher, and we include observations from the late Payne Stewart and Seve Ballesteros from previous interviews with us. Players and those behind the scenes talked freely of their experiences, needing little prodding. Old wounds from that Ryder Cup clearly have never quite healed. Many players reverted to speaking of Kiawah in the present tense, and accusations and barbs flew all over again. Here, in the words of those who were there, is the final summation on one of the greatest events in golf history.

Mark Calcavecchia I played in 1987 at Muirfield Village when we lost, and at The Belfry in '89, when we tied and they kept the cup, which meant we lost. At The Belfry, Ken Green, Payne Stewart, Paul Azinger and I all hit it in the water on the 18th hole. That sucked. After '89, it became more of an us-against-them thing. It got more intense--probably too intense.

Paul Azinger: The Europeans had been better than us, and they weren't shy about reminding us. The British media especially weren't bashful about letting us know about that. But in 1991 we had a new wave of young, terrific players who were also patriotic. Payne, me, Pavin and Pate especially, along with warriors like Raymond, Lanny, Hale and Stockton as captain. We didn't like having our noses rubbed in it, and we took it kind of personally.

Corey Pavin: I flew into Kiawah from Orlando with Payne the week before the Ryder Cup. When we arrived, maybe six of our guys were already there. We stayed on the upper floors of some apartments, or condos, with the Europeans in the floors just below us. On Monday of Ryder Cup week, Payne opened the windows and put on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." He had the volume turned all the way up, so the music poured down on the Europeans. I wouldn't doubt that the whole island heard it.

Bernard Gallacher: The local radio station got hold of some of our phone numbers. The disc jockey seemed to think it was funny to call our players in the middle of the night. It was called Wake the Enemy. And that went on all week, even during the tournament.

Paul Broadhurst: I got a call from the local radio station at 5 a.m. on the Friday, I think. The guy told me he was part of the "anti-European Ryder Cup campaign." At least he didn't deny anything.

Nick Faldo: The truth is, the Wake the Enemy scheme didn't work. It was a morning radio show, and the idiot there called me at about 6 a.m. "We're calling to wake you up," he said. Well, we'd been up since 5 a.m. preparing for the day's play. "I'm already up," I said and hung up the phone.

Bernard Gallacher: The tournament dinner [Wednesday night] was a farce in more ways than one. First there was the car crash on the way to Charleston. The Americans treated it like there had been a death. Then Steve Pate walked in having suffered only a few bruises.

Steve Pate: We were toward the end of a line of limousines taking players to a gala. It was raining, and the line of limousines got separated a little bit. We had a police escort, and for whatever reason, they unexpectedly stopped the last three cars. Our driver wasn't ready for that, and we hit the car in front of us.

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